The Prison Reading Groups that we give books to choose their titles. Here are accounts of 3 groups: we’re delighted to get feedback so thank you, PRG for sending them in. Biggest thanks go to everyone who gives to GIVE A BOOK so that this can continue to happen.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In general this book was a hit, and has tempted our members to read the two sequels.
Is this a serious political satire or pure entertainment?
One member thought the parallels with 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!' were striking, especially when prizes or presents are parachuted down to the various 'contestants'.
Another felt that the story had a worryingly serious side to it:
• ‘a sadly apt indictment of the human need for blood sport…the monitoring described in this book is eerily within reach’
On the other hand we all agreed that Katniss was mostly concerned with winning, rather than subverting the system politically – making this book, on the whole, a light read.
The process of meeting challenges and trying to overcome them is a constant theme here. Does the story make it easy for us to relate to this?
• 'the ongoing arrival of challenges and the determination to overcome them is an inspirational element’
• ‘this story could help us to stand up to oppression’
I was concerned that, as readers, we were being asked to accept that the rules could be changed so drastically and purely for dramatic effect. But another member thought that this was expressly to show the privileges of a draconian regime.
How much do we care about Katniss and Peeta's relationship? Do we want to find out what happens next?
We discussed the conceit of the main characters having to perform in front of millions of viewers and how that affects our perception of them and their 'true' feelings for each other. This didn't seem to deter other members:
• ‘I had to read the other two books very quickly in order to find out’
• ‘I couldn't help but get emotionally involved’
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Like most groups on the out, the men at this HMP are keen to read the books people are talking about. So it was no surprise when they chose Yann Martell’s Life of Pi, the Man Booker winner and now a blockbuster film.
The story recounts the terrifying adventures of an Indian teenager who is trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a 450-lb Bengal tiger.
Our discussion was lively, alert and full of surprises. The first member who spoke put us all on our mettle:
• ‘I thought it was pretty absurd – 227 days on a 26-ft lifeboat: pah! - until I got to the final section and realised what the ‘real story’ was and what the tiger actually meant. It all made sense then and now I think it’s brilliant’
Others were frankly gobsmacked by his explanation:
• ‘This has turned the book upside down for me’
• ‘It’s really blown my mind’
From here, the speculation began. If Pi’s ‘real story’ is the one hinted at the end, is the account of the tiger a lie or a way of getting at the deep meaning of what happened? One member had made a note of something said early on in the book and thought it might be at the heart of what the novel is doing. He gave us the page reference, then read it out:
‘That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence.’
Another member talked about being new to prison and finding it a tough experience. For him the book was a real help:
• ‘When I was reading it, I was in India, on the Pacific Ocean, in Canada – and not in here’
At the same time, he also commented on points of contact:
• ‘Of course they’re different, but I found analogies - between Pi’s fear of the tiger and what it feels like when you first come into prison’
We finished up the session by reading Blake’s 'Tyger': The verdict:
• ‘What a scorcher!’
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor:
a very mixed response. Many hated it, which made for a good discussion. One member was very concerned by the decision of the pregnant girl not to tell the father of her child, and the rest agreed with him (I argued that she was letting the chap off the hook, but they didn’t agree). The highlights were the comparison which one man made with photography, and how it can make the ordinary extraordinary through e.g. juxtaposition: a perfect analogy for this book. Also, the pastiche sent in by absentee member – done with a lovely witty touch.
Now go back to Give a Book